Taro is the common name of four different root crops that are widely consumed in tropical areas around the world. Taro is especially valued for its starch granules, which are easily digested through the bloodstream, thus making it an ideal food for babies, elderly persons, and those with digestive problems. It is grown by vegetative propagation (asexual reproduction), so its spread around the world has been due to human intervention. But its production is restricted to the humid tropics, and its availability is restricted by its susceptibility to damage in transport.
Taro is most widely consumed in societies throughout the Pacific, where it has been a staple for probably 3,000 to 4,000 years. But it is also used extensively in India, Thailand, the Philippines, and Southeast Asia, as well as in the Caribbean and parts of tropical West Africa and Madagascar (see Murdock 1960; Petterson 1977). Moreover, in the last quarter of the twentieth century taro entered metropolitan areas such as Auckland, Wellington, Sydney, and Los Angeles, where it is purchased by migrants from Samoa and other Pacific Island nations who desire to maintain access to their traditional foods (Pollock 1992).
Although taro is the generic Austronesian term for four different roots, true taro is known botanically as Colocasia esculenta, or Colocasia antiquorum in some of the older literature. We will refer to it here as Colocasia taro. False taro, or giant taro, is the name applied to the plant known botanically as Alocasia macrorrhiza. It is less widely used unless other root staples are in short supply. We will refer to it as Alocasia taro.